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Spain hails 'ETA leaders' arrests

Madrid says couple held are top man and woman in ETA

Madrid says Mikel Albizu and Soledad Iparraguirre are the highest ranking man and woman in ETA.
Acts of terror

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spain has hailed as "historic" the arrests of suspected top leaders of the Basque separatist group ETA, describing it as a major blow to the outlawed militant group.

Police arrested the suspected No. 1 in ETA, Mikel Albizu Iriarte, alias "Mikel Antza," detained 20 others, and seized explosives, grenades and other weapons in a series of raids on Sunday in France and Spain.

Alibuza was arrested with his partner, another suspected ETA veteran, Soledad Iparraguirre, alias "Anboto," at Salies de Bearn in southwestern France. Accused of involvement in at least 14 murders, she is the highest-ranking woman in ETA, the Spanish Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Spain's Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said more than 1,000 kg of explosives of different types were found along with dozens of sub machine guns, grenades, grenade launchers, detonators and bullets.

"This operation is historic," Alonso told reporters. "Despite this grave blow (to ETA) ... we continue on maximum alert, and won't let our guard down one single minute."

A Spanish interior ministry spokeswoman described Albizu as "the top, he is number one" in ETA -- the acronym for Euskadi ta Askatasuna -- or Basque Homeland and Freedom.

Iparraguirre is wanted in connection with 14 killings. Officials say she ran ETA's extortion unit, which demanded protection money from businesses and individuals -- money that was then used to finance ETA attacks.

ETA has fought for more than three decades to establish a Basque homeland independent of Spain. The group is blamed for more than 800 deaths.

The United States and the European Union consider ETA a terrorist organization.

CNN's Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report.

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